The event is structured in 6 official days, counting from day 0 just for early badge pickups, and day 1 and 2 including several optional events like recruitment sessions for people seeking an interview, a job fair. Day two also includes the group photo:
Early enough in the morning of day 3, September 26th, you get your first big talk. That year Jorge Gutierrez was one of the speakers that sort of took the show. He had a great talk where he went over his career trajectory starting from his early years in Mexico. He's a great story teller so his talk was full of great anecdotes and important lessons he's learned along the way. One of those stories was about how he nearly got rejected from admission at CalArts because he had made a portfolio based on the stuff he had been told he should show, the admissions director at the time hated his version of all that, and just as he was about to leave humiliated, some of his more personal art peeked out of another portfolio he had with him. That stuff impressed the director much more and he got in. Jorge has a very specific and bold art style, which can be easily noticed on most of the tv series and films he's been involved in. It was a very inspiring talk about how he has succeeded and failed through the years, and how many of his apparent failures setup the chess pieces on the board for the next big play. Another highlight was one of his stories about meeting Guillermo del Toro and pitching Book of Life to him. He also showed some stuff from his upcoming Netflix shows. Overall it was a great talk and it made me pretty happy to share a culture and heritage with guys like him. There are lots of very talented Mexican artists doing big things in Mexico and around the world in creative fields. Jorge remained super popular through the rest of the days of THU since he made quite an impression on everyone with his talk and later interactions he had with the attendees.
Next talk I attended was RafaelGrassetti's. Raf is a big deal in the industry, and for good reasons, he's one of the most prolific character artists who can somehow be an Art Director at one of the top developers owned by Sony, he does hordes and heaps of fanart and personal projects, and also is a husband and a father. His output is hard to believe and he keeps doing it. In his talk he covered a quick run of his career trajectory with his early beginnings in advertising cg in Brazil. The talk covered a lot of interesting material about the art direction and asset production for God of War. This game was one of the biggest of that year so it was pretty interesting to see a lot of that material. I was especially interested in all the RnD and development they did on muscle deformation for Kratos. It was a worthwhile presentation.
Next talk we went to was Gerald Parel's. His presentation was in one of the smaller rooms, more cozy and personal. He was a bit nervous and his french accent was a bit hard to understand at times, but the artwork he had to show was very impressive. He's one of those artists that makes it pretty far, but hasn't noticed how far he's made it, so he seems surprised by his own success at times and suffers from impostor syndrome, like many good artists do. He kept skipping through folders in his machine and in one of them I saw one folder that read "Captain Mexico" and I kept waiting for him to go into that one, but he didn't. When the talk opened up more for questions I asked him to show us what was in that folder, boy was I glad I asked. It was a super fun Mexploitation animated short that looked great and had lots of funny bits in it, everyone seemed to enjoy it and he seemed surprised, like he didn't think people would like it. I guess some times it's hard to know the difference between what we think will be well received and what ends up coming up short.
We attended the Ryan Lang talk after Gerald's, but no pics were allowed since it was a Disney talk, still it was a nice presentation about the use of references and developing a visual vocabulary. He showed some great concept art from Wreck it Ralph and other projects. The talk for that night was with Ilkka Paananen, CEO and founder of Super Cell. His talk had a lot of interesting info about how Super Cell is internally organized, the hierarchies and structures that they've tried from existing company structures and how they've come up with their own version of that. They started out from a garage, like many startups, and along the way they tried to keep some of that vibe. One of the ways they do that is that they seem to organize in small teams of highly qualified people that require very little training or supervision. Similar to some organizational stuff I've seen from places like Valve. These companies and teams have a lot of trust in their members, they get a lot of freedom which comes with a lot of responsibility too. Super Cell tried to recruit me a couple times, once around 2013 and then a couple years later again. I like the art style of many of their projects, but I'm not so keen on living in colder parts of Europe and mobile games aren't my jam, so I didn't go for it. Still for people interested in that kind of studio, it seems like a great place to work at. Good talk and a great wrap up for that first day of talks.
Next day of talks started out for us with Gio Nakpil doing an Oculus Medium demo (now Adobe Medium, I think), Gio had like two talks and several workshops so we'll come back to him with images and stuff. The next talk that day was from Yuki Matsuzawa, concept artist and art director for Square. This talk was in Japanese with interpreter, which isn't the most optimum thing, but it sort of works. The translation slows things down and I think Yuki might have been funnier in Japanese, he seemed serious, but he had a few fun slides in his presentation and he kept showing this one slide of the men's magazine cover that he painted for FFXV. He showed some of his steps for keyart paintings and for many people that do concept this stuff might be old hat, but for me it's still impressive to see those steps and how things get refined. Amazing images shown through this talk.
Next we checked out Alex Alvarez, founder of Gnomon. He showed some personal art he still tries do make while running one of the most successful schools for our kind of industry out there, he's a busy guy. His talk had a lot of quotes that some might have seen or heard before, but many I hadn't heard and from there he would explain his own experience in relation to them and things he has learned, things worth learning or noting. I've seen and heard people de-bunking before the concept of the 10k hours, I think both sides have good points... I don't think you strictly need them 10k for mastery, and whatever mastery is, some versions of it might take way more than 10k hours or lifetimes. One thing for sure is comparing class reels from the early years of Gnomon and the current class reels, the level up has been insane, thanks to how much the whole industry has learned, the tools and knowledge available. This industry moves fast.
Cory Loftis was another talk from that day, but again, Disney talk so no pictures. He showed some great stuff from Zootopia and lots of good tips on character design that I was either familiar or new to. Good tips about story telling in design that by now blur together some with other similar talks I've heard, for better or worse. The rockstar of that night was Goro Fujita. He had a great presentation about his career. He had this great throwback to an old digital painting from 2004 when he was starting out and an image to compare from 324 days later after basically doing a new piece every day... it was impressive enough. The real impressive stuff came when he started showing the stuff he's been making with Quill. He's a great evangelist for the tool, so much so that my wife was pretty sold on trying it out and joined a quill workshop the next day. He also had fun stories about his break-dancing hobby. The guy is exited and exiting to listen to, he's full of energy and creativity, which can be seen easily in his work. Between Gio's Medium presentations and Goro's Quill demos, my wire and I were pretty curious about getting into VR creative software... somewhere between work, and other distractions we haven't gone for it yet, but I'm almost sure we'll be buying a set and digging into these tools eventually as they seem to keep getting better.
I'll leave it here for now with the talks for the first half of that. I gotta get back to work, but I'm having fun recapping these and finding out how much I remember and what stayed with me from those talks. Since the days of comics magazines like Wizard in the 90s, I always enjoyed reading interviews with the artists and seeing how they got to where they got, it has been very helpful for figuring out how to reach some objectives and what objectives are worth pursuing for me. I hope that these recaps make some people interested in attending events like these, you can learn a lot from other people's experiences when they present to you the more important things they've learned along the way.